THINKING ABOUT UNAMUNO'S SAN MANUEL BUENO, MÁRTIR

joined by Emily Dickinson, Muriel Rukeyser, and Theodore Roethke
San Manuel the priest who kept
his poor parish in the faith
burnished their bright hope of heaven
(hope is a thing with feathers)

it is best not to think these days
about what what the newspapers report so reasonably
(I lived in the first century of world wars,
most days I was more or less insane)
today's weather an endless rain of feathers

when the passenger pigeon now extinct
had not yet been converted
to fashion slaughtered its plumage plucked
for the elegant hats of America's women
(those catlike immaculate
creatures for whom the world works)
when the migrating flocks still passed
overhead a billion strong the farmers said
bird lime turned the woods white
the sky was dark for a week

And San Manuel? Late in the story we learn
he did not believe in the hope
he kept alive believing as he did
(like his author) in the sustaining power
of fiction

by Eleanor Wilner

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